Both teams will be playing the second half of back-to-back games, but the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning will be on shorter rest than the Pittsburgh Penguins when they meet early Sunday evening.
Pittsburgh played an afternoon road game Saturday, a 3-2 overtime win against the St. Louis Blues, and were home well before the end of Tampa Bay’s 3-0 nighttime win at Detroit.
The Lightning have been sputtering a bit since a three-game winning streak in the middle of the month. They had lost three of four (1-1-2) before Saturday.
Even at that, Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper wasn’t thrilled with his team’s execution against the Red Wings, particularly defensively, beyond goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy’s 45-save shutout.
“It was like a pond hockey game for us at times,” Cooper said. “We just couldn’t execute at all.
“We’ll take it and move on and hope for a hell of a lot better game in Pittsburgh (Sunday).”
Tampa Bay, which is sitting fairly comfortably in a playoff spot, will be playing Sunday without defenseman Erik Cernak. He will be serving the back end of a two-game suspension levied by the NHL for elbowing Buffalo’s Kyle Okposo.
Pittsburgh would seem to be in a much better place than it was just a couple of days ago.
The Penguins, in the thick of the Eastern Conference wild-card chase, had lost four straight games before putting up a strong performance Saturday in their overtime win at St. Louis.
Those four losses, all in regulation, included three within the Metropolitan Division. The fourth loss came Thursday, a humbling 7-2 setback at home against the Edmonton Oilers during which the crowd at times booed the Penguins and at other times chanted “Fire Hextall” toward general manager Ron Hextall.
Friday, Hextall placed inconsistent forward Kasperi Kapanen on waivers, and Saturday, Kapanen was claimed by — but did not play for — St. Louis.
Coming home after a win against the Blues during which Pittsburgh controlled play much of the game offered a better blueprint for the Penguins. They held a 48-27 shot advantage and didn’t wilt after giving up a late tying goal.
“I thought we were on our toes, had a lot of chances,” said Penguins forward Bryan Rust, who scored the overtime winner Saturday. “That’s how we need to play here a lot going forward.”
Evgeni Malkin, like his linemate Rust, had a goal and an assist Saturday and has 16 points, including six goals, over the past 12 games for Pittsburgh.
“He can be such a dominant player,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said of Malkin. “He’s just so gifted offensively. He’s a horse. He’s hard to handle when he’s on top of his game.”
Pittsburgh goaltender Tristan Jarry, in his third game back after a nine-game injury absence, said he felt the rust falling away Saturday. “Being able to play games, it helps,” he said.
But with back-to-back games, it seems likely that backup Casey DeSmith will start against the Lightning.
DeSmith started eight of the nine games Jarry missed, going 4-3-1.
For Tampa Bay, backup Brian Elliott seems likely to start with the quick turnaround, even with Vasilevskiy’s shutout.
–Field Level Media